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The Firebombing of Tokyo – Epilogue


YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Lt. Gen. Burton Field, United States Forces Japan commander and 5th Air Force commander, gives Tomo Ishikawa, Gakushuin Women’s College student, a hug after she presented him 1,000 origami cranes March 16, 2012. The students made a total of 4,000 origami cranes and gave 1,000 to a member of each service. This was in appreciation for all the help given by the 5th Air Force to the Japanese citizens stranded by the tsunami.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Chad C. Strohmeyer)

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Epilogue

War is hell.

Vile.

Scars are left on those who had to endure the horror…

Those who witnessed it…

Those who fought in it…

But then hopefully there is a healing.

Perhaps it will take a generation or two.

But it will happen.

Capt. Ray Smisek receiving his second Distinguished Flying Cross on Guam, August 25, 1945. Incredible bravery indeed. Courtesy S. Smisek.
Capt. Ray Smisek receiving his second Distinguished Flying Cross on Guam, August 25, 1945. Incredible bravery indeed. Courtesy S. Smisek.

Perhaps one will never forget… but one can forgive.

Perhaps is it wrong of me – a person who never endured war – to say it so simply.  Forgive.

But I have witnessed forgiving with Old Man Jack… Mr. Johnson…

Warriors have forgiven and tried to move on with their life in spite of nightmares for the rest of their lives.

Civilians, too.

The result is endearing friendship.  The same USAF that bombed Japan assisted thousands of stranded Japanese civilians after the tsunami.  The world has benefited but at the cost of the sanity of single souls so many decades ago.

Captain Ray B. Smisek

On Sept. 2, 1945, Captain Ray Smisek once again made a round trip flight to Tokyo.

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A glimpse at a formation of B-29s flying over the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945. Perhaps Capt. Smisek’s B-29 is pictured. National Archives.

This time, it was as a member of one of the great air armadas ever assembled in history.  Over 300 carrier based Navy planes and hundreds of B-29s.  MacArthur rightfully wanted to make an impression upon the Japanese people by ordering a huge flyover Tokyo Bay and the USS Missouri, where the formal surrender documents were signed.  (They were to fly over at the moment of the signing but were late, upwards of ten minutes.  MacArthur apparently whispered to General Hap Arnold of the USAAF something to the effect of, “Now would be a good time, Hap,” with respect to his missing armada.)

It was the crew’s 21st mission.  They were going home.

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Official Mission List, retained by Capt. Smisek’s bombadier, Capt. Alfonso Escalante. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

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In Part 1, son S. Smisek said of his father that he hated to kill anything – even bugs.  That was his character.

Capt. Ray Smisek returned home to his parents after the war and tried his hand in the Los Angeles real estate market; he also worked as a cook in a restaurant.  He must have made one heckuva Sauerkraut, one of his favorites.

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Capt. Ray Smisek with his parents after returning home. They must have been proud. Photo courtesy of S. Smisek (Copyright).

But…  Ray Smisek had met a young woman while he and a back-seater were on a cross-country training flight in 1942.  They were flying from Greenville, Mississippi when the BT-13 trainer developed engine trouble.  To make matters worse, there was a bad storm.  Not swell conditions when you’re training to be a pilot.  Fortunately, the clouds miraculously parted and a small town below was bathed in forgiving sunlight.  He said he did a barrel roll and dove through the break in the clouds.  It turned out to be a rural airport in Springfield, MO (now known at the Springfield-Branson National Airport).

On the USAAF’s dime, he was put up in a posh hotel.  After noticing “this sweet thing walk by” per his son, Ray Smisek asked a desk clerk if he knew who she was.  Seeing the twinkle in his eye, the clerk contacted the gal’s father who agreed to let him meet his daughter…but under the father’s mindful eye.  She apparently “had a guy”, so to speak, but they still ended up becoming pen pals.  Those letters must have been so important to a young man off in a faraway place facing death at any time.  It may have been fate but her beau tragically perished in a B-24 Liberator accident in England.
She was a singer in the “big bands” era of the 40’s and traveled extensively.  Remembering there was no internet, Ray finally tracked her down in 1947.  She was in Houston for a gig.  His son tells me he drove for two days straight to get to where she was performing.  Ray had a note he had written and asked a waiter to hand it to her.  It said, “Let me take you home and love you forever.  Ray!”  The note is a precious heirloom; the family still has it.
After getting married, Ray re-enlisted in the newly organized USAF (It was separated from the US Army.).  He flew for 16 more years in service of our country and retired from the USAF as a Colonel in 1963.  Along the way, they had five children; one was born at each station at which he was assigned.  Talk about the hardships of a military family.
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Family picture taken in the 1980’s, with Ray (plaid shirt) and his wife (red blouse), five children and the grandparents to the right of center. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

S. Smisek explained to me that his father rarely, if ever, talked about his time at war while he was growing up.  That was very typical, you see.  His son wrote very eloquently:

When I was growing up, he never spoke much of his time during the war. When asked about those times, I could see a sullenness come over his face, then he would most often ask me another question just to change the subject. In those rare exchanges when he would answer, he made it very clear that he desired no recognition for what he had done. He desired no contact with his fellow comrades, felt no honor for the devastation he had helped cause, and amazingly to me, felt no affection whatsoever for the incredible aircraft which had brought he and his crew back safely from so many missions over so many horrible places.

He, along with the rest of these brave young men, was an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being – a person who offered some of his life’s most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so that countless others would have the freedom to accomplish theirs.

Raymond B. Smisek was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer in 1989 and passed away at home, surrounded by his family, in August 1990.  He was just 70 years old.  His son believes his father also suffered from another cancer – one related to unhealed scars from war.  His son said they were cancers of the soul and spirit, much more damaging than those of the body.  His wife – the singer in the big bands of the ’40s – passed away in 2001.

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Please visit his son’s tribute to the men of the 330th Bombardment Group at www.330th.org.  For the sake of the families of the WWII airmen, S. Smisek has researched and brought many of the pieces together of what it was like for their fathers at war.  Through his website and in a sterling triumph several years ago, S. Smisek played a key role in coordinating the meeting of a Japanese gentleman living in Canada with a B-29 pilot from his father’s squadron. Seventy years earlier, the Japanese gentleman was in Kumagaya Japan as an eight year old, running from the bombs being dropped from the pilot’s aircraft.  The two finally met and it was moving and emotional moment per S. Smisek.  For an article of the meeting, please click here.

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Aunt Eiko

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Dad took this picture of the Tokyo Station in 1947. His G-2 HQ was to his left in front of the Palace. The station was being rebuilt, courtesy of the US. Notice the rickshaws lined up in front; the Japanese had no cars until the late 50’s. Also note the trees; they are burned.

There was no escaping bombardment for Aunt Eiko, even after moving to Fukui slightly inland from the Japan Sea; the US Navy shelled their farming neighborhood heavily.  She also vividly remembers a small group of high school aged Japanese soldiers relaxing at the nearby beach and still cries inside knowing their fate.

Preceded by my mother, Aunt Eiko and grandma returned to Tokyo sometime in mid-September to find it in shambles.  People were living in lean-to’s, she said, and running water still had not yet been re-established in devastated areas.  Food was a tremendous daily hurdle.  She cannot recall when but she remembers it was such a relief when MacArthur began rationing out beans and drinkable water…but it was American beans.  Still, the beans were appreciated.

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PFC Taro Tanji seated in center flanked by (from left) mom, grandparents and Aunt Eiko. You can make out Taro’s US 8th Army emblem. Taken in Tokyo, December 8, 1946.
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Aunt Eiko got a job at the Tokyo PX, working out of the Matsuzakaya Department Store in the Ginza. You can see “Tokyo PX” on her badge. 1947, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.

But their greatest savior surviving the first few months after war’s end was another relative – an American.  An American of Japanese descent that is.  Taro Tanji was born in Livingston, CA but was drafted out of the Amache War Relocation Center in Colorado by the US Army.  He became a member of the famed Military Intelligence Service.

He arrived in Tokyo at war’s end as part of the US 8th Army’s Occupation Force.  Through his intelligence connections, he was able to track down Aunt Eiko and family in a suburb called “Toritsu Daigaku”.  Some of it had miraculously escaped burning.

Driving up in his US Army jeep, he stayed at their house every weekend.  Each time, he would bring a duffle bag filled with C-rations, instant coffee and American cigarettes for my Grandfather (which he reluctantly accepted – funny story).  Yes, Aunt Eiko ate the Spam and deviled ham.  Taro managed to get in a good word and found both Aunt Eiko and my mother jobs at the PX.

TouritsuDaigaku - Summer 1952
Aunt Eiko and her love in her life, Puri. Circa 1952, Toritsu Gakuen, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

Things were tough until the early 50’s.  Dogs as pets were still rare as they also needed to be fed…but Aunt Eiko wanted dearly to achieve one of her dreams – to have a dog.

And so she did… She named him “Prince”, or “Puri” when you shorten “Pu-ri-un-su” pronounced in Japanese.  She loved him until he passed away in 1968.  She was devastated, of course.  I think Puri was an escape from the war’s ugliness for her.

She met Paul Sakuma sometime in the late 60’s; he was a Hawaiian born Sansei who was also drafted by the US Army into the Military Intelligence Service by the US Army.  He was attached to the 720th MP Battalion to serve as a translator.  He told a funny story to Aunt Eiko where the MPs frequently raided certain types of “houses”…  You know…  GI’s were prohibited from “fraternizing with the enemy” so they would raid them.  One time, there was a fellow MIS Nisei caught inside.  He made sure the “howlies” couldn’t escape…but held the door open for the Nisei.  After being discharged, he decided to stay in Tokyo to live and worked for the USAF as a civilian employee, using his knowledge of Japanese as a go-between.

Uncle Paul at Ft. Snelling's top secret Military Intelligence Service Language School, circa Winter 1945.  The old barracks is seen in the background.
Uncle Paul at Ft. Snelling’s top secret Military Intelligence Service Language School, circa Winter 1945. The old barracks is seen in the background.

They married but had no children – but a week before my first marriage in 1980, I got a phone call from Aunt Eiko in Tokyo.  She was sobbing uncontrollably.

Uncle Paul had gone upstairs in their beautiful home he just had built for them after washing her car.  He screamed, “Eiko!”  It would be his last word; he suffered a massive heart attack and died, right there at the top of the stairs in his brand new home.

Soon after his death, Aunt Eiko immigrated to the US along with my grandmother.  She became an US citizen about a dozen years ago.

In an irony, the country that bombed her city to ashes in 1945 bestowed upon her beloved husband Uncle Paul (as well as to Uncle Taro) the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010 for their service to the country.  While both had passed away before the award, Aunt Eiko cried for happy when I surprised her with the medal.  She said, “Even after all these years, Paul still brings me happiness.”

Holding Uncle Paul's Congressional Gold Medal for the first time, Aunt Eiko cried for happy.  Incidentally, she became an American citizen about ten years ago.
Holding Uncle Paul’s Congressional Gold Medal for the first time, Aunt Eiko cried for happy. Incidentally, she became an American citizen about a dozen years ago. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.
With her best friend - August 1963
Aunt Eiko with her childhood friend – the one who was burned during a firebombing. August 1963, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

As for her childhood friends, she is all who remains now at 88 years of age, just like Old Man Jack.  Her friend who was burned during the firebombings was one of the last to pass away.  She was the tall girl standing behind Aunt Eiko atop the Asahi Newspaper Building on October 30, 1937 and shown here in 1963.

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A most sincere thank you to S. Smisek without whom this series would not have been possible.  I wish him continued fortune with his 330th Bomb Group’s website, helping those descendants piece together their father’s contribution in World War II.

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My two youngest kids standing beneath the Enola Gay in 2010, the most famous B-29. Her single bomb destroyed my father’s Hiroshima high school and damaged my grandmother’s home as well. Read the story by clicking on the photo.  Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.

Previous parts can be found by clicking on the links below:

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 1

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 2

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 3

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 4

Fairy Tales, Dragons and MacArthur – Part 1


http://www.wall321.com

As I watched “How to Train Your Dragon” on Blu-Ray for the third time with my kids, it became clear that knights in shining armor kill dragons…and only in fairy tales.

A tremendous Einstein moment for this old geezer.

But then I realized that sometimes, what we read about WWII history can be sort of a fairy tale, complete with a knight in shining armor trying to slay a dragon… the dragon being what truly happened in war.

History becomes what the writer – or a leader – wants it to be in the public domain.

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Unknown to many is that another battle raged after the surrender of Japan.  It was about what was to be recorded as an official history of WWII.  It was a battle involving glorification, greed and politics of both the victors and the defeated.

And of course, it involved General of the Army Douglas MacArthur.

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur www.historychannel.com
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur
http://www.historychannel.com

First, a quick opinion and summary of MacArthur from this arm-chair (amateur) historian’s viewpoint.

MacArthur had a helluva an ego as did George Patton and Bernard Montgomery.  He was suspicious, short tempered, short on patience and embittered.  MacArthur – as did Patton – studied military history extensively; he loved Napoleon.  As commander, he failed to appropriately alert the troops under his command in the Philippines immediately prior to Pearl and worse yet, in the hours after.  He had to flee the Philippines on a PT boat along with his family to avoid capture leaving behind his troops.  However, supported by a brilliant, top notch staff and highly critical intel derived from intercepted then deciphered Japanese transmissions, he was highly successful in winning the war in the Pacific.  He was a hero at war’s end to his great gratification.  He was so loved by the American public that quite a few babies were named Douglas.

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Primarily due to a ridiculously small and inexperienced staff, only a relatively short written history of WWII in the Pacific emerged in late 1946 to the chagrin of MacArthur.  He immediately then placed Major General Charles Willoughby in charge of generating an “official” history.

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Willoughby (left) then Kawabe. http://www.trumanlibrary.org

Willoughby was in charge of the US Army’s G-2 (i.e., military intelligence) in the Southwest Pacific theater of war and was trusted by MacArthur.  (I briefly reported on Willougby in “Ike, a German-American Soldier”.)  Having a heavy German accent, Willoughby was very loyal to MacArthur, pompous and stoutly anti-Communist.  He seized the opportunity to “write the history” on victory in the Pacific under MacArthur’s leadership.

The tiny staff then blossomed under Willoughby to over 100 and was headquartered on the 3rd floor of the “NYK Building (Nippon Yusen Kaisha)” just a block from MacArthur’s GHQ in the Dai-Ichi Seimei Building; both are situated directly across the Imperial Palace.  (Coincidentally, my dad was stationed in the NYK Building on the 4th Floor as a US 8th Army Technical Sergeant, 3rd Grade in Willoughby’s G-2. He is pictured below with the edge of MacArthur’s GHQ seen on the extreme right. The NYK Building is off the picture to his left.  Behind him is the moat of the Imperial Palace.)

By the Emperor's Palace 1947

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You can clearly see the devastation caused by firebombing. http://www.geocities.jp/torikai016/map/P0229tokyo-tokyo1947.jpg

Seeking glory in this mission, Willoughby recruited by the end of 1946 top Japanese military officers, spies and even war criminals.  Each had their own personal goals and copious amounts of US money flowed into these Japanese hands.  One Japanese officer who Willoughby met in Manila was the Imperial Japanese Army’s Lt. General Torashiro Kawabe (photo above).  Amazingly, because Kawabe also spoke German very well and was anti-Communist, he and Willoughby struck it off well.

A short time later, still in 1946, Willoughby met Lt. General Seizo Arisue who was the intelligence chief for the Imperial Japanese Army.  By sheer luck, Arisue was also fluent in German and a staunch anti-Communist and reported he had the extensive spy network in place mentioned above.  A triad had thus formed and the project to document history took off but with a twist: to Willoughby’s credit, he foresaw a “dual” history.  As history always gets written by the victor, Willoughby wanted two volumes.   One would be the US side of the story, the second volume to be Japan’s.

In early 1947, Willoughby was introduced to a former colonel who served at the Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo during the war.  His name was Col. Takuhiro Hattori.  Hattori was known to both Kawabe and Arisue as a genius in planning and organizing.  Hattori eventually became the person from Japan’s side to determine what went into the war history.

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Crypt, or ohaka, of the Araki’s in Japan. Click on link to a Japanese website, “History Sleeps in This Cemetery”. http://www6.plala.or.jp/guti/cemetery/PERSON/A/araki_mi.html

Generous money flowed through Willoughby to Kawabe and Arisue, reportedly to help fund the spy network.  Along the way, they brought in an “Issei” (a Japan-born first generation immigrant to the US like my grandfather) plus a university professor named Mitsutaro Araki.  He also received education in Germany but no history would be complete without sexual escapades.  Professor Araki’s wife was a socialite who used her beauty to charm others, primarily men.  Her name was Mitsuko Araki. As a bit of trivia, Mitsuko was the only Japanese who was allowed free, unhindered entry/exit to GHQ.  It was believed the CIA concluded she and Willoughby were having an affair.

In his efforts to make his recorded history unique, Willoughby paid Mitsuko to find and compensate artists who could paint battle scenes from Japanese eyes.  He felt photos were too ordinary plus many were from US sources.

To be continued in Part 2.

Hamburgers and a ’63 Merc


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Marilyn Monroe eating an old-fashioned hamburger at a drive-in hamburger stand. Photo by Philippe Halsman.

Nearly all Americans would agree that hamburgers are the All-American icon.  A simple grilled ground beef patty, salted and peppered, slathered with mayo, mustard and ketchup then sandwiched in a plain bun.

At least that’s how I know them.  Oh, hold the pickles, please.

Now, us kids that grew up watching “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie” have given birth to a generation that has taken a simple thing and made them into $15 gourmet, fancied-up, mushroom-covered (expensive) cuisine.  Do you think I like Elizabeth Montgomery and Barbara Eden?  Drool…

But I don’t know if I like the “change”.

Back to this in a minute, folks.

The fancy hamburgers – not the drool.

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Dad had always owned Fords when he could finally afford getting a car.  I guess that’s where I get my Ford passion from.

July 5, 1955
Aunt Eiko holding me in front of my dad’s Ford Consul automobile. If you are reading my past stories about WWII, you will know that only the occupying Americans could afford to buy a car. Her husband was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.  Tokyo, July 5, 1955.
Enoshima Beach, Tokyo - April 1957
My dad’s ’57 Ford Fairlane parked on Enoshima Beach, Tokyo. I’m thinking it was a dark green. April 1957.

After leaving Japan for the last time  in the late ‘50’s, my pop bought his first new car stateside in 1963 – he was 44 years old.  It was a two door Cascade Blue 1963 Mercury Meteor custom hardtop; a king of obscurity to say the least, but to a kid of about ten, it was Flash Gordon’s rocket ship.  Unlike Hillary, it was easy to love this car.

1964 or 1965 / Dad's new 1963 Mercury Meteor
On a road trip to Chicago in 1964. I’m still holding onto my Fujipet camera with dad’s 1963 Mercury Meteor behind us. This may have been in Utah.

Don’t get me wrong.  It wouldn’t get a choice spot if valet parked.  I say wouldn’t as my old man couldn’t afford valet, let alone a family dinner out.  But to me, the rocket ship had a chrome finish AM push-button radio – turn the dial on the right, find a station, pull out a button, then push it back in to set it.  Trouble is I did it a dozen times each time I got into the car.  But all I cared about was KFI 640 AM, the Dodgers’ station.  The golden voice of Vin Scully… and Fairly, Gilliam, Wills and I forget who played third.  They were World Series champs that year.

Six adults could get into this rocket ship with room to spare – eight of us little Japanese folks and a dog.  The cargo hold in back swallowed up my Sears JC Higgins bike in one gulp with enough space leftover for Frank Howard.  (I saw him hit the scoreboard in right field with a home run.)

Unless my aging grey matter is dissolving at warp speed (maybe it is), there were ash trays with shiny covers in each armrest…and this was for the back seats.  It was a favorite depository for my Bazooka chewing gum but I kept the wax covered cartoon that came with it.

Pop kept it for quite some time.  I passed my driver’s license test in it on my 16th birthday.  I got a 96 only because she claimed I never looked in the rear view mirror.  Poppy cock.  I always look in the rear view mirror for cops.  Even back then.

And as it was the only car we had back then, I also drove my date to one of my senior proms in it (I went to two.).  And the answer is, “No,” if anyone was wondering…but I’m sure she was disappointed.  Well, maybe not.

The four-wheel drum brakes were spectacular…not.  Instead of rubber meets the road, it was like rubber met the world’s supply of Vaseline while fighting the pull to the left… and this was at 25 mph.  Steering?  An oil tanker’s captain would do well.  Turn the wheel a lot; see the slight change in direction a few seconds later.  Pat Brady and Nellybelle turned better – and that was out in the desert on sand.

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The Mercury Meteor’s 260 cid V-8.

I overhauled the epoch 164 hp 260 cid V8 sometime around 1976 in our garage.  At 13 years of age, she had become an old girl.  She had become a V6, meaning it had lost compression in two cylinders.  I remember setting zero lash, then three-quarters turn of the ratchet for the hydraulic lifters during the overhaul.  The distributor was the biggest headache, of all things.  It was like extracting an impacted molar and only after using copious amounts of Liquid Wrench in place of laughing gas did it finally come out.  “Older” Blue Oval guys know what I’m describing.

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Back to today’s elegant hamburgers and change.

Instead of the push-pull AM radio, my youngest son – who was seven when I bought it – similarly discovered my ’08 Mustang GT had a “My Color” dashboard light feature.  Now I know how my pop felt as my son forced me to experience every color of the rainbow while driving at night – every time.  It was like being at an all-night disco club.

Bazooka bubble gum and ashtrays are no more but treasure hunters will be pleased after exploring the map pockets.  No disappointments there.  I promise… especially after my little Cake Boss had sat in the back.  Latex gloves are highly recommended before exploring.

Overhaul it?  After all, my GT’s got a 281 V8, only twenty-one more cubes than my pop’s…but it pumps out a magnificent 505 hp thanks to her Roush supercharger and Carmen pulley.  Hell, I’m afraid to change spark plugs.  Who would imagine in 1963 there would be a TSB on just how to R&R spark plugs?

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My Roush supercharger and gizmos.

And unlike my pop’s ’63 Merc which ran on simple mechanical principles (but threw physics principles out the window for the so-called braking), the computing power in my Mustang would cause Einstein to strike a pose like Captain Morgan.

And today’s stunning braking power is the true reason for seat belts – it compassionately keeps your head from being continually used to redesign the windshield.  The aftermarket Wilwood six-piston disc brakes I installed with slotted and cross-drilled rotors exacerbates the stop-on-a-dime tendencies… which is a good thing.

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The Wilwood Six Piston disc brakes on my Mustang.

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So it appears the delicious, basic hamburger of the 1960’s has been brought into the 21st Century.  Kids that watched Elizabeth Montgomery and Barbara Eden fooled with the wonderfully simple ground beef and bread formula to give us today’s foodie gourmet burger…and we can still listen to Vinny’s golden voice, to boot.  Glorious.

And well, with 505 hp at the crank instead of 164 hp, it’s hard to complain.  Neither do my kids when they hear the whine of my Roush supercharger.  They like to scream.  But it’s a shame my pop’s ’63 Mercury Meteor won’t be swept into anyone’s museum.

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I guess technology has its benefits.

I’ll take a gourmet burger in the end after all.

Pass the Heinz ketchup, please.

At least that hasn’t changed.

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 6


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A mother holding her child in Ebisu, a part of Tokyo, and in front of her corrugated tin hut. 1946. National Archives.

Indeed, the difficult struggle for food in enough quantities and quality continued.  Black markets for food flourished, particularly in larger cities.

Housing in the cities, however, was extremely tough.  As an example, after many cities were bombed out, millions flocked to Kyoto.  MacArthur and other Allied military leaders omitted Kyoto as a target for its ancient cultural richness.  Many Japanese had heard of that by war’s end and trekked to Kyoto in hopes of finding a roof over their heads.  Unfortunately, all living spaces were occupied.  No rooms were available, even at a huge premium.

Even in 1948 – three years after war’s end – Tokyo still had tremendous scars as can be seen in one of my father’s photographs below:

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The trees bear the scars of the firebombing. Tokyo Station is in the background being rebuilt with the aid of the US military. Notice the “jinrikisha” lined up in front; they were the equivalent of taxis today and were pulled or pedaled by Japanese men to make a living. Cars will not be available for about ten more years.  Taken by my father in March 1948 while serving in the US 8th Army under General Eichelberger.

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Soon after the bomb was dropped, the hostilities finally ended.  However, food and essential goods continued to be largely absent.  Amazingly, my cousins who went through that hell choose to reflect on these post-war years positively.  That is, reflecting on it as a miserable time will but cause a wound to fester.  They had seen enough of festering wounds.

But let us step back a year in Aunt Michie’s life.

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Uncle Suetaro is pictured at the bottom left with his Army buddies. You can see how lean they are due to insufficient nutrition.  August 11. 1943.

One month before the surrender, Grandmother Kono was informed by the remnants of the Japanese military that her son Suetaro was killed on Leyte fighting as an Imperial Japanese soldier.  The date of death was recorded as July 15, 1945.  The Emperor capitulated just one month later.  Of course, we have no record of that communication nor when Grandmother Kono was actually told, but the bomb was dropped just around this time, we believe.

A little more than a year earlier, around March 3, 1944, Suetaro walked to Tomo and Masako’s school.  He wrote a farewell note on a chalkboard at Masako’s elementary school to say good bye as he was off to war.  Masako remembers he had written to be a good girl and that he was sorry he couldn’t say good bye in person.  The family took their last family picture with Suetaro (Part 2); he was flanked by his older sister Michie and Mikizo.

We believe the next day, Aunt Michie went to the train depot to say good bye to Suetaro.  She was very fond of him and “his American citizenship”.  Everyone loved the fun Suetaro and she apparently talked of him often after his death.  But at that farewell, deep down, she knew it would be the last time she would see him.  I wonder how she felt watching the train disappear.

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This photo was in Grandmother Kono’s photo album. Flag waving school girls stand on the right.  After talking about it with Kiyoshi, we believe this was the send-off Aunt Michie went to – to see her brother Suetaro go off to war and certain death. Kiyoshi indicates that a professional photographer took these types of photos at the train station and that the pictures would be offered for sale.  1943.

Soldiers rarely came back.  Per tradition, he had left Grandma Kono some of his nail clippings and some of his hair.  That is what is in the family crypt.

For hundreds of thousands, entire bodies would never be found.  This was true for America, England, Australia, Russia or Germany.

But at least part of him remains there in Hiroshima.

The cousins tell me Aunt Michie grieved for days after his departure… and that she was torn apart when she learned of his death.

The bomb would fall just days later.

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According to the family, even shortly after the bedlam caused by the bomb, Aunt Michie continued to care for her stricken mother by walking to her house five miles away when she could.  My dad said the road was “pretty” level but that since it is Japan, there were hills along the way, especially near Ishiuchi, a small village.

Taken by my father in April 1948 in front of the Hiroshima family home. Holding the baby Kiyoshi, who was born in the home, is Aunt Michie then clockwise – Sadako (who savored the white rice), Masataka, Namie (who pulled maggots out with chopsticks), Masako (who was thrown across her classroom by the shockwave, and Grandmother Kono (who did shaves at her Seattle barbershop).

In December 1947, Aunt Michie started to have contractions while walking over such a hill.  She was able to make it to Grandmother Kono’s house where she gave birth to Kiyoshi, right then and there.  No, no doctor…no nurse… and Grandmother Kono could not help due to her stroke.  It is said she was very happy that the birth took place at her childhood home.  She grew up there along with her American siblings.  She had felt safe.

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My cousins believe their mother, Aunt Michie, gave all of herself for her children and her family.  In spite of malnourishment, she toiled in her farm’s fields, cared for Grandmother Kono, gave her all in the bomb’s aftermath, set the example for her children.  She put everyone before her.

But soon after giving birth to Kiyoshi, she developed kidney problems.

They tell me that medical care then was still pretty non-existent so she had no choice but to ride it out.  However, she pushed herself back into working the farm too soon to care for her children, her own stricken mother and other household duties.  That was Aunt Michie.

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An “石じぞう”, or a stone buddha, along a pathway in Hiroshima. ©Koji Kanemoto 2013

Cousin Kiyoshi remembers massaging his mother’s swollen legs after a day’s work.  He also fondly remembers perspiring trying to keep up with Aunt Michie on a hot, humid summer day as they walked up a hill overgrown with thick, green wild grass.  There was a “石じぞう”, or a stone figure representing Buddha, alongside a ridge overlooking a blue Hiroshima Bay.  Kiyoshi will always remember that moment, looking at his mother with perspiration running down her face and the blueness of the bay.

In retrospect, they feel that if Michie had taken some time to rest and more often that she may have regained her health.

On May 29, 1963, she was laying in the same farmhouse in which she nursed the 23 injured people that fateful day.  Her kidneys were giving out.  She opened her eyes one last time and looked lovingly at each of her children who were gathered about her then closed them.  Thirty years after her father gave away her hand in marriage at 19, after 30 years of a life heaped with physical and emotional demands one after another, world changing events and family tragedies…  After enduring the pain of survival, Aunt Michie left this world.  She was but 48.

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In September 2012, I visited Aunt Michie for the first time. Masako is flanked by her daughter Izumi and my son Takeshi. Similar to the hot summer morning when she was knocked down by the shockwave, it was hot and humid that day. Now, I feel it was appropriate.

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Aunt Michie conquered all and gave her life to others so they could get to tomorrow… and she did that with dignity and unconditional love for her children.

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An epilogue will follow for Part 7….

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 5


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A rare photograph taken after listening to the Emperor’s surrender speech, August 15, 1945. There was a coup attempt the night before the speech was broadcast.

Although the violence of World War II was nearing an end, other aspects of the war could continue against Japanese civilians for years to come.

Their infrastructure was gone.  Essential assets such as manufacturing plants, machinery, trains, roads, housing, utilities, even fishing boats had been destroyed.

And most of all, food.

And Aunt Michie’s dignity – the entire family’s dignity – will continue to be tested until the late 1940’s.

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Dated April 1943. A boy poses holding a stick in a bottle filled with unpolished brown rice. This is not the polished brown rice you eat today at Panda Express. It was more wild. Japanese would insert a stick into a bottle partially filled with brown rice then repeatedly jab at the rice until the husk came off. It was low grade rice with the germ still on. (From the Mainichi Shimbun archives.)

For eons, Japan has been unable to produce enough rice for their people let alone food.  In fact, it was not until about the time Japan hosted the 1964 Olympics that Japan could produce enough rice for themselves.

The war took a terrible toll on regular folks from getting their “rice fix” – they were just not able to eat it.  This deprived them savoring it, the mental and biological satisfaction of just eating it.  Think of it this way – what if not just bread itself was kept from you but also the sweet smell of the freshly baked bread with the perfect crust..with melting butter?  Talk about attacks on your psyche: deprivation.  Deprivation for years.  Prolonged sensual deprivation makes for huge changes in one’s outlook on life.

Like the photo of the little boy, millions of civilians would acquire a wild form of brown rice (玄米 genmai) and dehusk them as shown.  Along with barly, it served as a substitute for the flavorful white rice with the higher calories.

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Confronted by not only the absence of medical supplies, Aunt Michie’s house was now filled with 23 men, women and children with varying degrees of burns.  I doubt emergency rooms could handle such a sudden load of burn victims… but Michie’s family did.  On top of that, her house was damaged by the atomic bomb’s shockwave.  It pains me to even see in my mind what they had to do to make the house habitable enough so quickly to nurse the injured.

It was mayhem and Michie personally did not ask for this horrific situation… but now, on top of trying to provide medical care for 23 people, she was confronted with one ominous problem: how to feed them all.  There was no food left in the city of Hiroshima and it was just over the hill.  And any food left in the village of Tomo was fresh.  It would spoil quickly anyways in the heat as there was no refrigeration.  No supermarket.  No canned goods either.

She did as Aunt Michie only could.  She used her precious reserve of rice and only served it to the ailing victims.  I am sure she believed that would be the only way to truly help them survive as all of them were malnourished.  As a result of rationing the remaining rice to the victims, her own children who weren’t physically injured were delegated to survive on cooked pumpkins, stems, stalks or taro roots for the duration.

A huge, gut wrenching decision for Aunt Michie, I’m sure.

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Some of the wild grass or other vegetation boiled for emergency eating can be seen behind my father and Uncle Suetaro. Hiroshima, circa 1929. Copyright Koji Kanemoto

To help this dire situation, the Hiroshima aunt who was not badly injured went about the area with Mikizo’s parents scavenging for wild grass and other vegetation to boil.  That, too, became part of their food.  Although likely not very nutritious to say the least, there was no other alternative.  And it is important to note such wild vegetation they boiled or ate had been subjected to the black rain…

What do you have in your yard?

Perhaps you can somewhat understand why my cousin Masako thought Spam was the most delicious thing she ever ate.

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In spite of all Aunt Michie could do, my cousins tell me some of the burn victims’ injuries wouldn’t heal.  They had worsened.  Their wounds began to fester or decay for lack of a better description.  Pus formed.  There was nothing they could do.

The odor of the decaying flesh permeated out of the house.  They say you could smell it from the dirt road immediately outside.

It became so intense that people would hold their noses to scurry past the house.

None of my cousins who were there tell me they will ever forget that vulgar smell of rotting flesh… or death.  Never.

Just like Old Man Jack.

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From Aunt Michie clockwise: Aunt Michie (holding Kiyoshi), Namie, Mikizo’s father, Masataka, Sadako, Masako, Mikizo and Mikizo’s mother. Taken in 1948 at their farmhouse where they cared for 23 victims. Courtesy of Kiyoshi Aramaki.

My cousins tell me some didn’t make it.

Others would pass away in the next couple of years from the effects of their injuries or radiation.

Nevertheless, the struggle for food and other essentials would continue…but my Aunt Michie’s immediate family survived.  Even Tomiko who was in Hiroshima proper.

And Aunt Michie’s dignity and strength reigned supreme.

They all made it to tomorrow.

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The surrender documents were signed by Emperor Hirohito’s representatives aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.

Unbelievably, Mikizo also survived the war.  Although taken prisoner upon Japan’s surrender as a soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army, he was released from Manchuria and allowed to return to his Hiroshima farm in late 1946.

To be continued in Part 6….

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 4


You can hardly tell this is a young girl anymore. As Masako and Mr. Tsukamoto told me, they were walking dead. Flesh literally melted off their bodies and dangled. Grotesque forms which were once human beings.

The aftermath of the bombing was no different from hell.  Not that I’ve seen hell nor that I would want to…

But Aunt Michie and my very young cousins saw it.

They visited hell.

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Atomic bomb survivors. Perhaps this is what Aunt Michie and her cousins saw in their search for relatives on the other side of the hill. If you notice the flask the young girl is holding to her lips.  It was likely filled with radioactive water.

Nearly all doctors and nurses within the city had been killed or seriously wounded on August 6, 1945.  If they survived the blast, they were likely to fall ill from radiation poisoning and they themselves would die within days.  All remaining medical supplies – which had been nearly non-existent due to the war – had been destroyed as well.  Most food – even unpicked fruits or vegetables – were contaminated with radiation as was water(¹).  Thousands of corpses plugged the rivers as they would go in to soothe their burns but would soon perish.

It is important to note that food rationing in Japan was much more extreme than what was imposed on the American public.  While the rationing in America began in May 1942, it started with just coffee and sugar.  In Japan, rationing of a far more extensive reach began in 1939 if not earlier.  It extended to nearly all first quality food stuffs.  Rice, barley, seafood, meat, soy bean paste and soy sauce, vegetables, fruit, seafood, etc.  Groups called “tonari-gumi” were established in villages and the like; they monitored and rationed food to the Japanese families based on what work they were doing, e.g., war production, number of family members along with their age and sex.  The rationing was so severe that when one family member died, the family did not report it.  The average caloric daily intake was cut down to less than 2,000 a day by 1945.

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Homeless orphan in Tokyo. He would have to be determined if he was to survive.

The Japanese civilians were starving, so to speak, and were without question malnourished.

Aunt Michie was no different.  She was hungry like everyone else and likely tired easily due to low nutritional intake and daily physical and emotional demands upon her.  It is important to have an understanding of her condition at this crucial moment in history.

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Sadako – taken in early 1948 by my father while on furlough. She would marry a distant cousin (common cultural practice at that time) who was also badly burned in the atomic explosion.  She is wearing clothing my father bought for her at the Tokyo PX.

After the shock and black rain subsided, Aunt Michie’s thoughts immediately went to her treasured family.  According to my cousins, she went into her priceless family rice reserves and cooked real rice for the children.  Sadako, the second oldest, remembers to this day how she savored that bowl of rice, a definite luxury at that time.  While but a child of ten years and filled with anxiety about eating such a fine meal, she saw at that moment her mother’s love and affection for them was unconditional.

Aunt Michie’s thoughts went to the Aramaki family (aunt and uncle’s family) who lived in Hiroshima.  She had no way of knowing that day but they had become direct victims of the atomic bombing.  They had been burned over most of their bodies and had even been trapped under their destroyed house.  They managed to struggle with their searing injuries to Aunt Michie’s house to seek refuge and care.  They had realized that only strong family support would allow them to live.

Grotesquely, the path going over the 300 meter high hill which the relatives traveled became littered with scores of dead people.  Masako said they were unrecognizable lumps of flesh and died where they crumpled.  Many had their clothes burned away.  While thousands were killed instantly, other thousands suffered for days before dying from intense burns, radioactive poisoning and other injuries.  As radiation poisoning was unheard of amongst them, some were told they had dysentery and the like.  Many before dying oozed pus from their ears and blood ran from their noses.  You will not read this in any Western textbook.  In fact, the gruesome information about the days, months and years after August 6th was suppressed for a couple of decades by both governments.

While the dazed and immensely pained adults struggled to Michie’s farm, there were young children of the family unaccounted for(²).  Without hesitation and unbelievably, Aunt Michie – in her weakened state – pulled a two wheel cart over the hill to Hiroshima to look for them.

Over a hill.

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I believe this to be the type of cart Aunt Michie pulled to Hiroshima to look for the unaccounted for children of the family. Kiyoshi called it a 大八車, or large two wheeled wooden cart.

Miraculously and while the details are lost, she found some of them and hauled them back to the farm on the cart, now laden with the additional weight of the children…  on the same road that was further littered with dead and dying people.  Think of the mental anguish Michie had to endure when dying people came up to her and asked for her help…  It would be difficult to not look at them.  It was more difficult to ignore them, I’m sure.

According to my cousins, a total of 23 people got refuge and care at Aunt Michie’s farm.  I understand many were relatives from the Aramaki side of the family.

There were more hurdles for Michie and her children immediately ahead – caring for the injured and dying.

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You can tell which way this woman was facing when the bomb went off. Her left side is burned. Photo was likely taken after August 6, 1945.
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A mother looks after her child. This photo was also likely taken after August 6, 1945.
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An elderly woman lies dying on the floor covered with flies. Perhaps this is just one of the sickening sights Michie and her children have buried in their conscious.

The preceding photographs may show what Michie and the children were faced with.  And the children were just that – children.

How old are your children, by the way?

The older cousins recall that they, Michie, Mikizo’s parents and the less injured relatives took on a 24 hour a day field hospital of sorts to treat the injured.  It was stifling hot and humid; yet, they had to be given constant attention and there were so many of them.  I cannot imagine how exhausting this task could have been, especially when you are hungry and malnourished yourself.

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Taken sometime after August 6, 1945. The side of her you see is what had faced the atomic explosion. The patterns are from her clothing she wore that day. It was where the dark patterns of her clothing had been in contact with her skin. Masako recalls vividly this type of pattern among the burn victims and that the maggots followed that pattern.

The common injury were burns.  Severe burns…and they had no medicine whatsoever.(³)  No Bactine.  No Motrin.  No aloe.  All Michie could do was to coat the burns with a type of cooking oil and bandage them with pieces of cloth.  She must have endured unlimited anguish in knowing she could not measurably lessen their pain and suffering.  There must have been constant crying and unbearable moans of pain.

And on their hands, blood from human beings.

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Namie – taken in early 1948 by my father while on furlough.

Six year old Namie could never forget what she had to do.  Flies were swarming having sensed dying flesh.  Namie was tasked with shooing them away with a fan but they wouldn’t stay away.  And worse yet – time and time again, she had to remove the maggots that were feeding on dead flesh…with chopsticks.  I do not know if I could have done that…but Namie did.

The turmoil that must have stormed inside Aunt Michie to tell her daughters to do what they had to do for the sake of survival…and then to be stern with them and tell them to continue when they wavered or cried…  must have been punishing to her as a loving mother.  She must have wanted to cry.

Aunt Michie was the point woman.

And she fulfilled that role.

Her goal was to get everyone to tomorrow.

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To be continued in Part 5….

Notes:

(1) Per my 2012 meeting with Mr. Tsukamoto in Hiroshima, water is the main theme of the Cenotaph at the Peace Park.  Survivors clamored for water.  Where there was well water, many survivors were suffocated as dozens more pressed against them for the precious liquid.  Please see “A 1937 Yearbook, the Atomic Bomb and Hiroshima” for further information and links to their personal story.

(2) The number of unaccounted for children is unclear.

(3) Mr. Tsukamoto recounted how they had to constantly mash yams and place them over their burns to temporarily lessen the pain.  They did that for over a month, he says.

A Father-ly Invasion


Imagine being a Marine. You’re in Afghanistan.  You see your buddies getting blown up by the cowardly enemy’s IED or killed after an ambush. Then, after a bitter, maniacal all-out war, their religious leader capitulates.

Now, suddenly, you are standing out in the desert, outside of Fallujah, waiting to go in as part of the “occupying force”. Your feelings and emotions are going amok – anger coupled with fear of the unknown… You will be surrounded by the enemy who also fought the exact same bitter war against you.

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US 26th Marines marching into Sasebo, Japan – August 1945. Notice the Japanese standing to the left and the general absence of civilians.

Now… imagine you are a young Marine on a troop ship off the Japanese coast. It is August 30, 1945. A few weeks earlier, you became acquainted with the term atomic bomb. The Emperor of Japan just capitulated.

You are to go ashore onto the Japanese homeland.  But in this case, you are not wading ashore to occupy a city. You are wading ashore to occupy an entire country.

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As we now know, the initial “invasion” of Japan by Allied forces ended up being entirely peaceful; no one was killed. Perhaps there was a small incident or two, but I have not read anything to indicate a single shot was fired. How could that be? How could hundreds of thousands of Marines, soldiers and sailors have stormed ashore – under an assault mindset – onto a homeland populated with maniacal military and millions of civilians – and not erupt in combat?

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Per a report of the US Army’s 98th Infantry Division dated December 20, 1945:

“The mission assigned the Division was participation in the occupation of Japan; however, due to uncertainty as to the attitude of the people, the real intentions of the Japanese army, and the possibility of treachery or sabotage, the Division was directed to be combat loaded and prepared for any eventuality. Thus planning for the occupation of Japan was based upon an assault landing rather than an administrative movement…”

(Click here to see actual report.)

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There is no single answer. The peaceful invasion was the result of hundreds of contributing influences.

One came from Father Patrick Byrne, a Catholic priest in a country dominated by Buddhism.

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Father Patrick Byrne. He was elevated to Bishop prior to his death.

Father Byrne had been sent to Kyoto in 1935 to set up a mission. As he was respectful of the peoples, he was put under house arrest (confinement) when war broke out. Of course, it was very harsh. His only companions were a cat and a parrot. Food was poor and scarce, just like it was for the unfortunate civilians.

Per “Escape from Manchuria” by Paul K. Maruyama (USAF, Ret.), he emphasizes the importance of the role fulfilled by Father Byrne immediately after the Emperor broadcast his surrender. Although in very poor health, Father Byrne with the aid of a newspaper reporter and a Father Furuya, hurriedly put together a radio broadcast intended for TWO audiences: (1) one for the Japanese homeland and (2) one for the “invading” Allied forces.

As hordes of civilians were escaping to the countryside, getting from Kyoto to Tokyo in the few available trains was hard but after 15 hours, he made it being escorted by police. He then recorded his speech on or about August 20, 1945, which was re-broadcast many times via radio and shortwave…to the Japanese people and to the countless number of Allied occupying forces staging off-shore.

His radio broadcast:

“The war is over. What can I say first of all to the Japanese people whom I have loved and who love me as a brother for more than 10 years? I share their grief when the Emperor spoke to them and told them that they had fought a good fight but now he wanted them to give up the war and turn to peace. I, an American, speak to you Japanese in the name of those soldiers about to enter your land to assure you that you need to have no fear. They are not coming to the shores as invaders, with tanks, bayonets and bullets, but merely as representatives of their country, taking occupation of Japan to help you once more to reconstruct and build on the new foundation of democracy. The eyes of the world are on this occupying army. You may rest assured they come peaceably.

What can I say to you, the soldiers of my native land, regarding these people? Their feelings will naturally be mixed with emotions as you look up on the victors entering their land, where the homes have been destroyed or burned, their sons and fathers of families killed or maimed and wounded. It is only natural that you look with anger, fear, mistrust, and frustration at your arrival. Should you add to their present feelings by any any ruthless attacks upon the women and young people in this land, I am afraid of what the consequences might be. So I urge you to cooperate with me as I assure the Japanese people that you will commit no degradations, that you would have goodwill and charity in trying to realize what these people, the real victims of the war, have suffered and will not do anything to add to the pain they endure.

You are on trial before the eyes of the world. Any violence or immorality, any unjust or criminal act on your part will not only be a stain on your character but on that the nation you represent.

I believe I may assure you people of Japan that the army chaplains would do everything they can to remind our soldiers of their moral responsibility. The Military Police, too, will carefully protect your interests and will arrest anyone found violating the law. If there seems to be any violation of this protection which is your due, I have been assured by the Archbishop of Tokyo that he will appeal to the Holy Father in Rome who in turn will make known to the whole world by radio and the press any form of injustice. Freedom of the press in the United States will cooperate so that such news will not be suppressed.

I am not afraid because I know these Americans and trust them, but I can understand the fears of the Japanese people. Soldiers coming into Japan, I strongly urge you to come with kind hearts and be good friends of these people. You have fought hard and want a victory. I know you want to enjoy it and want to be proud of it, but please try to understand the distress of the Japanese and make your behavior calm and warm as representatives of a great nation. Perhaps after two or three months, they will begin to understand you better, and then I think there will come an intimate friendship between you and them.”

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The Allied Forces – with the words of Father Bryne questioned in many soldiers’ minds as to intent – stormed ashore on August 30, 1945 on many beaches all around Japan. Once ashore, they were largely astonished to learn over the next few hours the truth in Father Byrne’s words.

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A Marine walks past young Japanese women on a routine patrol.  Thousands of vials of poison were distributed to thousands of young girls in preparation for the “invasion”. (USMC Photo)

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According to “Escape from Manchuria”, Father Byrne made a recovery back in the United States after the war and was elevated to Bishop when he was sent to Korea in 1947. In 1950, he was captured by the North Koreans and once again was subjected to horrifying treatment and captivity before being put on the Korean War equivalent of the Bataan Death March.

He fell ill during the march in freezing conditions and when he could not continue, he was taken to a shack. There, on a frozen floor and without any warmth, he passed away on November 20, 1950 at a place called Ha Chang Ri, North Korea.

(Note: Edited Feb. 2, 2014.  For some reason, the photo of Father Patrick Bryne had been removed.)